Kedis­tan invites you to grab a stool, just at the bend of the bar and to order an espres­so. Sip while qui­et­ly savor­ing these few pages, a bit wrin­kled, while yearn­ing for the taste of real Turk­ish coffee…

French Kurdistan, summer 2015

Thurs­day July 16 2015, in the Paris-Mar­seille TGV, 11h24


I was sup­posed to write you from Kur­dis­tan in Turkey. What­ev­er happened?
Until Istan­bul, noth­ing in particular.
The esca­la­tor ris­es on a diag­o­nal through its tube.
In a moment, we won’t see one anoth­er anymore.

Around 12h18, St-Charles sta­tion in Marseille 

I marked up my trav­el guide dur­ing the flight.
On arrival, trav­ellers spread out between Istan­bul and the rest of the world. The inter­nal trans­fer does­n’t attract crowds at this late hour. I’m find­ing my way with the pan­els when two insignif­i­cant-look­ing guys adress me, each one show­ing me his badge.
The inter­ro­ga­tion takes place in a small rec­tan­gu­lar room. I’m sit­ting on a rather low couch. One of the guys has his ass on the desk, the oth­er one on a bar stool.

14h01, in the TER head­ing for Embrun (South­ern Alps)

– Why have you come to Turkey?
– I’m a tourist.
– Why are you going to East­ern Turkey
– There are lots of things to see…
– Is this the first time you’ve come to Turkey?
– Yes, this is the first time…
– So why don’t you stay in Istan­bul, like every­body else does?
– I’d rather save Istan­bul and the West for anoth­er time…
– You have cash?
– Uh… yes…
– How much to you have?
– 140 euros…
– Can you show us ?
– …
– What have you got in your bag? Let’s have a look…
– Is this a draw­ing by your daughter?
– No, by my niece…

After inspect­ing my trav­el guide care­ful­ly, they spread out my Turk­ish map across the couch and look at it for a good five min­utes (you must nev­er miss an oppor­tu­ni­ty to revise!)

What is your trade?
– French teacher.
– Can you show us your pro­fes­sion­al card?
– There are no such cards for teach­ers in France.
– Where will you stay in Diyarbakır? Do you have a vouch­er for a hotel reservation?
– No, I’ll be stay­ing with an acquaintance…
– What is her name?
– I only know her first name: Esma.
– Do you have her phone number?
– Wait, let me see…Uh, no, it’s not in my notebook…In fact, it’s writ­ten down on that slip of paper…
– Who are these peo­ple on this list?
– They are my friends in France and my con­tacts in Turkey…
– Zehra Tuncer ? Who is Zehra Tuncer?
– She’s my friend…
– Kemal ? Elçin ? İnci ? Mehmet… ?… (while this goes on, the oth­er one tries in vain to reach Elçin on my phone but there’s no net­work). What’s writ­ten in brack­ets after “Mehmet” ?
– “HDP official…”

At about this point, a bit before or a bit lat­er, at least one oth­er cop comes in to join us. He has a trans­genic hair­cut. I’m final­ly invit­ed to put away my belongings.
– “Quick” the worm says…

I am now in what I would call the air­port police sta­tion. The staff work behind the counter under the fixed image of Kemal Atatürk, and the mov­ing one of Erdoğan.
I’m sit­ting at a small table on the pub­lic’s side of the counter. Fac­ing me, a man whose shoul­ders are snowy with dan­druff glares at me though his glasse.

You’re not suit­able for Turkey. It is the government’s right to refuse somebody’s pres­ence if he thinks it’s not suit­able. You take the first plane to France tomor­row morn­ing. Every­thing is explained in this paper…

The “paper” explains noth­ing at all.

They take me beyond the door, at the back end of the office.
At last. Irakis and Syr­i­ans who fled from ISIS or, maybe who col­lab­o­rat­ed with it. It’s a joke between them, so one of them is jok­ing­ly intro­duced to me as a mem­ber of ISIS by a young beard­ed man . Des Irakiens et des Syriens qui ont fuit DAESH ou qui, peut-être, y ont par­ticipé. C’est un sujet de plaisan­terie entre eux, apparem­ment, alors, quand l’un d’eux m’est présen­té comme un mem­bre de DAESH par un jeune bar­bu syrien gogue­nard,1I don’t know if this is fish or fowl.

Pri­or to that, I sym­pa­thize with a man from Cameroon. He’s one of two French speak­ers, the oth­er is a Con­golese from RDC. He’s been here for four months!

A slight­ly beard­ed Ira­ki has arrived at the same time as I. He was almost cry­ing in the office, explain­ing he would be killed if they sent him back to Irak.
We exchange names, hand­shakes and smiles with a Gambian.
There are at least four Kurds among the Irakis. One of them want­ed to pur­sue his stud­ies in Rus­sia. There is also a Syr­i­an Kurd. The sto­ry the Con­golese tells me is extreme­ley complicated.
If mem­o­ry serves, there were four rows of beds with five beds in each. On the right, the door opens onto show­ers and toi­lets. In front of it is the liv­ing space: you eat there, youp ray ther, you phone, you chat… We hear voic­es on the oth­er side of the wall: it’s the wom­en’s dorm! The wall is so thin we can even com­mu­ni­cate through it!
You need a card to use the phone cab­in. The guy from Cameroon gyps me by sell­ing me one for 5 euros when all it con­tains are 8TKL (about 2,50€).

Sat­ur­day July 18, 15h42,on a bench fac­ing the cathe­dral in Embrun 

It must be mid­night in Turkey. In France, I don’t know. I try to call my com­rade at the Asso­ci­a­tion of Friends of Old Monchy. While I dial her num­ber, the Mus­lims set­tle in for prayer, just behind me. Their dron­ing chant invites itself along with my words on Noëlle’s voice mail.

By mir­a­cle, Jean Dubois, the prési­dent of the asso­ci­a­tion, answers the phone. He hap­pens to be with Barn­abe who works at the Nor­man cul­tur­al cen­tre in Monchy.
I must then stay by the phone so he can call me back. But every sec­ond time, the call isn’t for me, it’s for Badiou, the Con­golese. (…) Final­ly, Jean rec­om­mends that I let myself be sent back to France, rather than moul­der­ing here for an unde­ter­mined length of time.
Food time!
We are served a bit the same way as on the place with a plas­tic-cov­ered dish but only a main course. Some get mous­sa­ka. I have beef with rice. Eat­ing all togeth­er is con­ge­nial. In the end, since there are lots of left-overs, the oth­ers insist that I eat everything!

In the cathedral,

Dur­ing ayran, teatime, before or after, I impress the Kurds by show­ing them I know how to say “rojbash”! In con­ver­sa­tion with the Syr­i­an Kurd, I slip in a “biji Kobanê”! Here’s very amused! How­ev­er, I remain eva­sive on the hypo­thet­i­cal rea­sons for my deten­tion because I sus­pect the pres­ence of an informer among the guests. There are also cam­eras in every cor­ner of the room and in the toi­lets. The man from Cameroon explains he want­ed to reach Europe through Turkey. He tells me Boko Haram also com­mits exac­tions in his coun­try. The Con­golese weaves a dithyra­m­bic por­trait of Europe, land of Human Rights.
Dur­ing the meal, one very thin man in a djella­ba remains sad. I lent him my card after­wards, so he could call with the units remain­ing (approx­i­mate­ly 2,5 TKL). Unfor­tu­nate­ly, he did­n’t man­age to reach the per­son he want­ed to talk to, or the per­son could­n’t call back, I don’t real­ly know.
Detai­ness who have been there for a long time are allowed to walk around, at cer­tain hours I guess, with­in the air­port’s perime­ter. This is how one of them brought back choco­lates for every­one, a while ago. As the con­ver­sa­tion dies down, every­one goes to his bed.
Four or five of us extras konk out on the chairs. Hard to find a good posi­tion. It must be three o’clock in the morn­ing. The lights stay on all the time. I’m pulled from my drowsi­ness by some­thing I don’t under­stand at first.
All the chairs are set aside and piled in one cor­ner. The car­pet gets laid out for prayer.
The mas­ter of cer­e­mony’s chant is soft and sooth­ing. I won­der to what extent it is com­posed or improvised.
I notice the beard­ed Syr­i­an jok­er stays in bed dur­ing the prayer. Maybe he’s Chris­t­ian, or some­thing else. The Syr­i­an Kurd par­tic­i­pates though, as does the pre­sumed ISIS mem­ber, the sad man in the djella­ba, the Ira­ki with a neck­tie, the man from Cameroon…
Around six o’clock in the mot­ning, I call the hotel recep­tion desk to find out when they intend to pick me up. In about forty min­utes, they tell me.

As I leave the place, every­one’s eyes are closed, except for the Con­golese to whom I make a sign.
The TV is still on in the office. Alter­nate­ly, it shows Erdoğan and Sela­hat­tin Demir­taş! I sti­fle my urge to laugh!
Judg­ing by his expres­sion and the tone of his voice as he com­ments what he sees and hears for the police woman behind the counter, my accom­pa­nist does­n’t find it fun­ny at all.

The air­port’s bay win­dow greets the ris­ing sun.
Sit­ting on the chair where my accom­pa­nist has left me, I see the Syr­i­an Kurd in a dis­tance, doing his ear­ly morn­ing stroll.
I am left in the care of the ground host­esses who sit me right behind the counter of the board­ing gate.
The board­ing staff joke among them­selves, pay­ing me no atten­tion. Their care­free atti­tude irri­tates me, so much so that I become dis­agree­able like a dis­grun­tled customer.
In the end, I under­stand they were wait­ing to end the board­ing pro­ce­dure to take me to the plane and hand over my pass­port to the per­son who will hand it over to the French bor­der police when I leave the plane, so that the bor­der police can hand it back to me at last!

I sit at the back, against the win­dow. I don’t know exact­ly what the host­esses know or don’t know about me.
I put the ques­tion frankly to the host­ess serv­ing my break­fast: “Do you know what hap­pened to me last night ?”3… She is “sor­ry”. It’s not her fault, of course.
My girl­friend who is a Kurd from Turkey told me the staff from Turk­ish Ari­lines had been very active in the Gezi Park and Tak­sim Square movements.
Pri­or to that, I had asked for a bot­tle of water, think­ing every­one knew what had hap­pened. I spec­i­fied I had­n’t had any drink­ing water dur­ing the night. The host­ess brought be two glasses.
We fly over a 3‑D map in green and black, bor­der­ing on the Ocean. It’s break­fast time. The host­ess does­n’t under­stand every­thing but she is kind.
On leav­ing the plane, I’m intro­duced to the blonde lady from the French bor­der police. She’s the one who is giv­en my passport.
Before that, I’ve said good­bye to the host­ess, wish­ing her to dis­cov­er France some and to be greet­ed bet­ter than I was in Turkey. She repeat­ed that she was “sor­ry”. I regret lay­ing a guilt trip on her. That was­n’t my intention.
I don’t remem­ber if the blonde hand­ed back my pass­port right away or after the final interrogation.
Thanks to her, I jumped all the lines, like a VIP!
At the sta­tion, she has me wait on the bench fac­ing the counter.
On the way, I had already start­ed explain­ing what had hap­pened. She told me she sim­ply want­ed to insure I had com­mit­ted no offens­es, in Turkey or elsewhere.
I assure her I have com­mit­ted no offens­es any­where and that chances are Turkey reject­ed me because of my polit­i­cal involve­ment and my ties of friend­ship with Kur­dish mem­bers or sym­pa­thiz­ers of the HDP.
At her request, I accept to show her the con­tent of my small back­pack. When she then asks me if I will freely show her my list of con­tacts, I con­sid­er she’s push­ing the enve­lope a bit. But I’ve let myself be car­ried along by trust and, at the time, I don’t see how or why I should refuse.
I was reproached this weak­ness, lat­er. Indeed, the blonde’s chief may have pho­to­copied the list and put all my con­tacts on a list. We must­n’t for­get the coop­er­a­tion agree­ment that ties the Turk­ish and the French police.
To my great sur­prise, I get my big back pack quick­ly. Look­ing through it, I see it was­n’t even searched!

Zehra is wait­ing for me at the door, still wind­ed by the six flights of stairs.

And now what should I do? 

Go to Greece? Canoe down the Dor­dogne? Do a spele­ol­o­gy ini­ti­a­tion? Hand gliding?
Zehra pulls me out of my dream: the police called her par­ents in Turkey. False alarm. Zehra had mis­un­der­stood. In fact, her par­ents had received a let­ter from the uni­ver­si­ty con­cern­ing her grant…
In the after­noon, I drop in to see my friends at the Kebab. Selim, the father, thinks my mis­ad­ven­ture won’t have any con­se­quences for my con­tacts in Turkey.
Zehra, for her part, con­tact­ed her couin in Diyarbakır. Who told her sev­er­al Euro­peans like me found them­selves on the Turk­ish gov­ern­men­t’s black list but were let free afterwards.
I run into my young friends Nino and Geof­frey on the street, who tease me…
How bizarre! Dur­ing the trip, I had already dreamt that I was back home again, in the mid­dle of the road. This had nev­er hap­pened to me before in real life!
I call Jean-Luc F., my canoe mas­ter. He thinks buy­ing an inflat­able canoe is a very bad idea because I won’t be able to maneu­ver it alone. To try it out, he invites me to his vaca­tion home in Embrun, in the South­ern Alps.
And here I am in the Paris-Mar­seille TGV, at 11h24, writ­ing you my letter…
I thought there would be a cel­e­bra­tion at UNESCO, as there was last year, to mark the end of the geno­cide and the lib­er­a­tion of Rwan­da but I did­n’t receive any emails about it, so I don’t know…

Lionel C.

Trans­la­tion by Renée Lucie Bourges

Français : Refoule­ment : “Mon Ori­ent express par avion” Cliquez pour lire

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